Infiniti's rear-drive Q50 came onto the luxury sport sedan scene as a feisty, less expensive alternative to mainstays like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4. Ever since it was called the G35, this sedan has been known for great looks and impressive performance. For 2016, Infiniti has expanded on the Q50's strengths, while improving some of its weaknesses.

The Q50 will be offered with four engines, three all-new and one carryover (the hybrid), each backed by a 7-speed automatic transmission. The base engine will be the 2.0t, a turbocharged 4-cylinder good for 208 horsepower. Next up is the 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, one of two VR-Series engine variants and the engine Infiniti expects to be the Q50's volume seller. But the one that'll get an enthusiast's heart beating faster is the 400-horsepower version of the V6, only available in the Red Sport, and the one that we had the chance to drive on the road and on a closed course.

What is Red Sport?

The Q50 will be offered in a new high-performance trim, called Red Sport, which we expect to see on across the Infiniti range. (How do you know it's a Red Sport? Look for the red S. There will still be standard Sport models in the Infiniti line, with a silver S.) The Q50 Red Sport 400 is powered by the highest-horsepower version of the sedan's new VR-Series V6, which replaces the VQ. The VR engines are lighter, more fuel efficient and available in the Q50 in 300- and 400-horsepower versions.

Don’t let the lack of styling changes fool you. There's a lot that differentiates this Q50 from the ones that came before. In addition to the all-new engines, Infiniti has made changes to the car's suspension, steering and suite of safety features, and the end result is the most refined, most fun Q50 to date. We sampled rear-drive Q50 Red Sport 400s, trying models with both rack-based power steering and the newest version of Direct Adaptive Steering.

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Red Hot Rocket

We got into our red sedan (a coincidence; the Red Sport will be available in several colors, including the Red Sport-exclusive Iridium Blue), started the engine and headed out. It quickly became obvious that this car wanted to play. Power comes absolutely effortlessly. A quick squeeze of the throttle can put you squarely into ticket territory, yet the sedan feels like it's barely doing anything, in a really good way. Refined and composed, the Q50 is eager to cater to the driver's whims. It beckons you to go faster, and the transmission complies as quickly as the engine does. Infiniti estimates that 0-60 times are in the mid-to-high 4-second range. The exhaust note doesn't have the same raspy pitch it once did, but the abundant power more than makes up for it.

The Q50 holds the road nicely, offering a ride that is a good balance between comfort and responsiveness. If you don’t drive it like you stole it, leisurely cruising in the Q50 is very pleasant. For those who enjoy track time, we discovered at the autocross that when going around turns at a higher rate of speed in Sport+ mode, the tail will break loose, but it's easy to control and offers plenty of thrills.

Steering

For 2016, Infiniti gives buyers two options: a new rack-based power steering system, which is the more traditional route, or a revised version of the company's Direct Adaptive Steering, a drive-by-wire system. We tried both, and for driving on a daily basis, we would be happy with either. But there are some tradeoffs you need to consider before buying.

If you get the traditional rack system, the steering offers good feedback and feels more natural. Those who are more conservative drivers or who aren't comfortable with drive-by-wire systems will be perfectly happy. But if you go that route, you will be missing out on a system that gives the driver more ways to personalize the car's settings and is tuned to greatly reduce steering vibrations, something we observed first-hand. Infiniti's retuned DAS makes the system much more responsive to driver input than it was in the past. It felt slightly less natural than the rack-based system, and yet works very well overall. For those who want the instant response that DAS offers, especially in quick, tight turns, you should seriously consider DAS, an option we'd guess will add $1,000-$1,500 to the bottom line.

Also: See the New and Redesigned Cars of 2016

Drive Modes

The Q50 gives you six drive modes to choose from, easily accessed via a toggle switch near the transmission shifter. As you go from Standard through Sport and Sport+, steering, transmission programming, throttle and suspension settings tighten up and become more suited for high-performance driving. Eco mode works in the opposite way, limiting throttle response while causing the pedal to push back. Driving in Eco mode isn't part of the EPA rating regimen, but it's estimated to improve fuel economy by 5-10 percent. While you can use the Personal mode to customize the car's settings, there are fewer things to specify in a Q50 that isn't equipped with DAS. There's also a Snow mode, which we didn’t get to test.

The interior's materials quality and fit and finish are very good, and placement of the controls is logical. The center stack uses a handy 2-screen system, known as InTouch that's intuitive and easy to operate while driving using a combination of hard buttons and touchscreen controls. We hear versions of this system will end up in other models; we think it would be a perfect fit in the QX50, QX60 and QX80.

Safety first

While the Q50 Red Sport 400 is designed for performance, it also contains an impressive suite of safety features. Lane Departure Prevention beeps when you drift out of your lane, and gently guides you back. Active Lane Control keeps you in the lane despite crosswinds. The Q50 comes with the excellent Around View Monitor, which makes parking-lot maneuvers a snap. Predictive Forward Collision Warning uses sensors to scan what’s going on with the vehicle two cars ahead. There's also Backup Collision Intervention that will beep if a vehicle is driving past as you back out of a parking space, and Blind Spot Intervention guides the car back into the lane if the system senses a car in the blind spot.

The combination of refinement, ease of use, improved fuel efficiency and intoxicating power is highly appealing. It should attract buyers that thought the previous Q50 was too rough around the edges or not as fast as some of the German competition. The new Q50 goes on sale in April, with the 2.0t arriving at dealerships first, followed by the Red Sport 400 and then the 3.0t. The 2016 Q50 2.0t will open at $34,885 with the new Red Sport 400 starting at $48,885 in rear-drive form and $50,885 for an AWD version. Pricing for the 2016 Infiniti Q50 3.0t has not yet been released.


 

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